#EcoTravels: Turning turtle poachers into custodians in iSimangaliso

2018-08-16 10:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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A big turtle on the beach

When scientists first spotted turtles nesting on KwaZulu-Natal's coast in the 60s, the sight of hatchlings making their way to the water has been a wonder to behold - for locals and tourists alike.

However, the leatherback and loggerhead turtle population were in serious decline over the years, putting the already critically endangered species in even more danger of extinction. Part of the problem was they were easy targets for their meat, and seaside communities were poaching the eggs.

SEE: The turtles of iSimangaliso

Instead of throwing the book at the communities and restricting their access, the Ezemvelo Turtle Monitoring Programme was launched with an aim to turn poachers into custodians of the fragile marine animals.

Since then, the programme has helped not only stabilise turtle population - currently standing at 80 nesting leatherback turtles and 935 loggerhead turtles that visit our shores annually - but the community has also reaped some benefits.

“This programme is not only crucial for the survival of the Loggerhead and Leatherback Turtle populations, but also very important for the local communities who are truly invested in it. A programme such as this does not only create jobs, it also creates custodians of nature and wildlife, ambassadors that truly believe in the conservation and protection of unique, biodiverse areas such as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park,” commented Lauren van Nijkerk of WILDTRUST.

WILDOCEANS, in partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and DIFFERENT.ORG, is currently raising funds to ensure the continuation of the programme. You can find out more about it here. 

Baby turtles trying to make it from the beach to t

Loggerhead Turtle hatchlings heading towards the ocean for the first time. (Photo: Roger de la Harpe)

WATCH: Turtles on Christmas Island battle against pollution

Turtles are very important for the ocean's ecosystem, by maintaining coral reef systems and bringing essential nutrients from the oceans to the beaches and coastal dunes. In iSimangaliso, the mother turtles start nesting on the beaches from the start of November every year, and their eggs start hatching between January through to March.

If you'd like to see this miracle of nature, you can take a turtle tour with various official operators during this time from St Lucia, Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Mabibi, Island Rock and Bhanga Nek. Check out the park's website for their details.

ALSO SEE: Where in the world is Yoshi? We're having fun tracking SA's favourite turtle 

Mother turtle with her eggs in the sand

The eggs of a critically endangered Leatherback Turtle at iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KZN. (Photo: Roger de la Harpe)

A big turtle on the beach

A Loggerhead Turtle making its way back to the water after laying its eggs. (Photo: Roger de la Harpe)

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